The North Inner City in Independent Ireland

The aftermath of Independence

A decade of discord and conflict ended with the partition of the island and the creation of a 26-county Irish Free State.

Dublin acquired a new parliament and government, populated by many who had fought for Irish independence and in the subsequent Civil War.

The changing of the political guard brought no quick resolution to Dublin’s pressing housing problems, as the first Free State government did not prioritise housing for Dublin’s working class during the 1920s. That government did, however, introduce a new Corporation Housing scheme at Marino, while the 1931 Housing Act also helped local authorities to clear slum areas through Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Following a change of government and a further housing act, increasing the subsidies available to local authorities, building rates accelerated across the State: between 1932 and 1942, an average of 12,000 dwellings were built each year.

Irish Press, Oct 13th 1936

Articles from the Irish Press, Oct 13th 1936, proposing the building of more Corporation flats, and on the dire conditions in the slums.

Rutland Street flats, 1980s

Rutland Street flats, 1980s. Courtesy of Dublin City Council.

Dublin’s changing skyline

In Dublin, Herbert Simms became Housing Architect for Dublin Corporation in 1932: he was responsible for the construction of around 17,000 homes before his death in 1948. In 1935 alone, he oversaw the construction of 1,552 dwellings, including many of the corporation flats that came to characterise Dublin’s urban landscape. Changes to the Dublin skyline were accompanied by changes to street names, as the capital’s colonial past was unmade.

In 1930, for example, Montgomery Street was renamed Foley Street, in honour of 19th century sculptor, John Henry Foley, who was born at Number 6.

The Monto’s decline 

Government efforts to deal with the city’s slums were joined by religious efforts to address the moral quagmire of the Monto, Dublin’s red light district. Between 1923 and 1925, the Legion of Mary’s Frank Duff worked to shut down the brothels of the north east inner city.

While prostitution declined, the poverty that often caused it did not. In the second half of the 20th century, Dublin’s working class continued to struggle. The introduction of containerisation impacted heavily on dockworkers, as the shift away from traditional storage and loading methods resulted in a decline in jobs.

Looking onto Foley Street with the ruins of Paddy Clare's pub to the right of photo. 1980s

Looking onto Foley Street (the former Montgomery Street, or ‘Monto’) in the 1980s

Aftermath of the North Strand bombing

Aftermath of the North Strand bombing. Photographs were commissioned by Dublin Corporation as evidence for the assessment of insurance claims. Courtesy of Dublin City Council.

The Emergency & later conflicts

The North Inner City continued to provide a stage for historical drama throughout the 20th century.

The Emergency compounded problems of poverty, as wages stagnated and prices inflated. Despite Ireland’s neutrality,  the Second World War visited tragedy on Dublin when, on 31 May 1941 the North Strand was struck by German bombers, killing 28 and destroying hundreds of houses.

Over three decades later, in 1974, conflict in Northern Ireland spilled onto the streets of Dublin when loyalists exploded a series of car bombs on Parnell Street, Talbot Street and South Leinster Street, killing 26, including a woman who was nine months pregnant.

Problems continue

The late-20th-century brought profound social problems to the area, including gang violence and a heroin epidemic, but it also brought significant investment. First, as a result of the so-called ‘Gregory deal’, named in honour of the local independent TD who offered his support for government in return for ; second, as a result of the creation of the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC), the construction of which transformed Dublin’s docklands.

The rise of the glass-fronted financial hub did little to address the challenges faced by residents of the North Inner City, however.

Lord Mayor Michael Keating, Tony Gregory, Aughrim Street Summer Project

TD Tony Gregory  pictured with Lord Mayor Michael Keating, at the Aughrim Street Summer Project. Gregory controversially supported Charles Haughey as Taoiseach in 1982 in return for a massive investment in local housing and job creation initiatives. He defended the deal on the basis that it helped alleviate appalling social deprivation in his constituency. Courtesy of Dublin City Council

Do you have family memorabilia or stories about life in the North Inner City? We’d love to hear from you: